When Man of Steel was first announced, I was skeptical based on current history. Superman Returns (2006) had not been the best success on the big screen, for one. DC Comics was also going through a whole revamp of their mainstream world. Dubbed “The New 52,” changes were underway and horror of horrors, Superman now sported some armor-like concoction sans the signature red shorts. Superman did not seem to be the archetypal hero embedded in the western world’s (and beyond) cultural consciousness anymore. Then the promotional pictures came out for the costumes, and knee jerk reactions included “err, why is it so dark”, “where’s the yellow on the symbol”, and general petty disapproval. No one was denying that the Superman movie franchise needed a reboot, but what kind of reboot was this going to be? And of course, there was the perennial question, “do we really need another origin story?”
When the first teaser trailers for Man of Steel came out, I was left feeling cold. Seemed a bit like the Superman: Birthright comic, and what was with that blue-hued, washed-out, gritty-real aesthetic? Superman wasn’t meant to be like Batman, with all the internal brooding. I didn't even bother keeping track of cast announcements as production was underway. But then the extended trailer came in, both the Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) narrated-versions, and I then realized how much I needed a Superman movie. Hope, an ideal: Superman being, quite simply, good.
Because that is, in essence, what Superman is about. Goodness, wonder, hope, and - even before he knew his true heritage - being a hero. And, of course, one's legacy.
Krypton’s legacy is one of a doomed planet, though the reasons are now expanded on in the movie. It is no longer an off-planet Golden Age, but is instead a warning that even Earth could heed. Man of Steel opens into full sci-fi glory, with a Krypton that is refreshingly believable. Things are recognizable, but distinctly alien. It is not just another Earth with different clothes. Russell Crowe admirably helps set the tone from the onset, and following him, we get to see the multiple sights of Krypton. And of course, winged creatures that can be ridden like horses, because we know that in every movie Russell Crowe is in, him on a horse is a good thing.
But I digress.
This story is about legacy, and fathers. That much would’ve been guessed from the trailers. But this movie is also about nurture and mothers. We see so often Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) placing little Kal-El in the escape ship. And when Superman contemplates his purpose, it is so often linked with Jor-El, so often influenced by the lessons he’s had from Jonathan Kent, excellently portrayed by Kevin Costner. Yes, we get those in this movie. But we also see how the mothers have helped forge this hero too. Martha Kent’s (Diane Lane) moments with Clark through the ages are some of the most touching, keeping our Clark grounded as that Kansas farmboy even after he dons the suit. Lara Lor-Van’s courage is not something to be slighted either. She is not just the dutiful wife following her husband’s plans. She shares those plans, and she executes them with equal conviction.
Then there’s Lois Lane. Sure, there are cosmetic changes. Amy Adams’ Lois is not the black-haired, pencil-skirt wearing reporter. She is instead a red-head, jeans wearing, and camera toting (for lack of an Olsen), but that’s okay. Most importantly, this Lois is not a damsel-in-distress. She scales steep cliff faces, she navigates her own way out enemy territory (albeit with a certain artificial intelligence as a guide, honestly one of the best scenes), and more importantly, she the new steadying presence in Clark’s life that he can rely on.
The villains themselves aren’t half bad either. It was pretty cool to see a badass female bad-guy. Antje Traue's Faora is a great counterpoint both to Adams’ Lois and minor characters such as Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni), and does so much in the small amount of screen time she has. Lady is lethal. Michael Shannon’s turn in as General Zod is fearsome and threatening from the start, yet still being able to add an element of tragedy at one of the show’s climaxes.
And the fight scenes - wow! I wouldn’t know anything about Kryptonian physiology in relation to yellow sun radiation, but I think we get some idea from this movie. I definitely enjoyed the Kryptonians’ navigation around gravity and other enhancements. And no ‘Kryptonite’ per se in sight, but that doesn’t leave our heroes and villains without weaknesses, and all the better for it. Granted, the visuals at times during Zod’s attack seemed reminiscent of War of the Worlds, or any other doomsday apocalypse, but considering that we’re talking about home-worlds being destroyed, I think that could be forgiven.
I’m not too sure about a couple of deaths in the movie, especially of a certain minor character you might be invested in had you entered the Superman world through the DCAU (especially Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited), but this is a Superman in a world where tough choices and tough sacrifices must be made by all good men. Henry Cavill brings us through this journey splendidly, giving us the unassuming Clark Kent and the emboldened Kal-El in equal turns.
So did this movie give me what I hoped it would? Yeah, pretty sure it did. But your mileage may vary. This is not a comic-book movie with snappy dialogue and slick, bright pop colors. Audiences going in expecting that will be disappointed. Neither does it focus on the epic. It moves through genres, bringing sci-fi and drama into the spectacle we expect of a superhero action movie (but not solely that), and is aptly titled without our hero’s trademark name.
The movie cuts straight to plot-driven action, and exposition is kept to a minimum. At times the pacing lags a bit, but this is really only if you expect spectacle at every turn. Man of Steel is just as much about the man, as it is about the steel. The narrative arc is not linear, but the flashbacks fit themselves thematically into the overall plot, and even within that, the emotional journey is one which should tug either at the child or parent within you.
I give it a solid 7.5/10 and will definitely watch it again.
Sarah Ann-Lee is a regular contributor to The World's Finest.
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